Most of us tend to take our eyesight for granted. We may be aware that smoking, poor diet or being overweight can increase our risk of developing heart disease or cancer but fail to appreciate that these factors can also affect eye health,” says Dr Susan Blakeney, spokeswoman for the College of Optometrists.
“Many people don’t realise that their eyes can also reveal symptoms of other conditions such as high cholesterol, raised blood pressure, diabetic retinopathy and thyroid disease. That’s why regular check-ups are vital.”
Why do you need an eye examination?
“You may put off an eye test because you don’t think there is anything wrong with your sight, but you can lose between 40 and 90% of your eyesight without noticing any differences in your vision,” says Dr Blakeney.
How frequently you need a check-up will vary according to your age, overall health, any eye conditions you have or family history, but if you notice a change between check-ups see an optometrist as soon as possible.
What can go wrong?
Common eyes diseases include glaucoma, where pressure of the fluid in the eye is too high and causes damage to the optic nerve, and diabetic retinopathy, a complication of diabetes where the retina (the light sensitive area of the back of the eye) and the blood vessels serving it become damaged.
Another condition is age-related macular degeneration which affects the macula (part of the retina which is responsible for fine detail at the centre of your field of vision); patients can’t see faces, detail on a TV screen or words in the centre of a page, but are left with some peripheral vision; Cataracts, where the lens of the eye becomes cloudy and vision becomes less detailed, are also common.
Protect your eyes
- Cover one eye to check how much you can see: “This is one of the most important tests you can do,” says Dr Blakeney. “It’s possible to be blind in one eye without realising because the other eye will compensate. If you notice deterioration in the sight in one eye, it could be a sign of an underlying condition so see an optometrist.”
- Don’t smoke: Smoking can increase the risk of developing age-related macular degeneration, the UK’s leading cause of sight loss, by two to four times and makes diabetic-related sight loss worse.
- Keep to a healthy weight: If you are diabetic and have a Body Mass Index of over 35, you are 80 times more likely to develop diabetic retinopathy than if you have a BMI in the healthy weight range.
- Eat a healthy diet: Leafy greens such as kale spinach, broccoli and collard greens are full of lutein, which helps prevent damage to the macula. Corn, orange sweet peppers, tangerines and oranges and other brightly coloured fruit and veg are rich in zeaxanthin, which is thought to prevent damage to the macula and help prevent age-related macular degeneration developing. Carrots may not necessarily help you see better in the dark but they are rich in Vitamin A which is important for eye health. Eggs are a good source of Omega-3 which may help to protect against oxidative damage to the eye.
- Protect your eyes from the sun: Sunglasses with the CE Mark are guaranteed by the manufacturer to protect against harmful UVA and UVB rays which can damage your retina.
- Keep hydrated: Not drinking enough can make your eyes feel dry and sore, especially if you have central heating or air conditioning.
- Sit close to a light source for reading and close work: Straining your eyes in poor light can cause headaches.
- Wear safety goggles: Always wear safety goggles (European standard BS EN 166) to protect your eyes against DIY accidents.
- Also wear goggles on sunbeds: The skin of the eyelid is thin an UV rays can damage the eye.
- Take care with eyelash extensions: These can cause your eyelashes to fall out if incorrectly applied.